Shipping Container Door Frames

After our house guest left, I got busy with a slew of projects that could be lumped under the heading, Finishing My Shop. There are still a couple tasks remaining so I’ll wait a bit longer to post a final update on the shop. But for now, final completion of the shop waits for me to make a run to the city for materials.

I’ve been anxious to get back to installing the windows, but with the dry season rapidly passing, I felt the need to prepare a few areas inside the containers for concrete floors. It is no fun to mix concrete while rain is dripping off your nose. I chose to make some interior door frames.

At the pace of about a door frame a day, here’s how I went about it.

Using the big angle grinder with a metal cut off disk, I had months ago cut two of the three door openings in the side of container three. For the third opening, I decided to fire up my new oxy-acetylene torch for the first time. I’ve never used a torch before, so over the course of a few evenings I studied online the proper and safe way to light and shut down the torch. I made an instructional one-page Word document (actually, I use OpenOffice, free Microsoft-like software) and had the page laminated for future reference. Here’s an OpenOffice screenshot. Pretty much the only difference is the few hundred dollars I didn’t have to spend.

I marked the door opening with a felt-tipped marker. I fired the torch and proceeded to make my first cut. I had to adjust and readjust the flame to get the flame size and gas mixture just right as I really didn’t know what I was doing. I hadn’t foreseen, but of course the flame burned off the paint, taking the marked line with it. So I made a first pass burning off the paint, let the metal cool, wire brushed the metal and the adjoining paint, and remarked the line. Then I cut the metal. There was a learning curve, but by the time I finished the cutout I pretty much had the process sorted out as to how fast to move the torch and how to get a fairly straight line as I progressed. When I was done cutting with the torch, I buzzed a few rough places with the angle grinder, then put a flap-sander on the grinder and feathered the paint edges.

Next, I needed to make the door frames. Because I used 2″x2″x1/16″ square steel tubing to make the window frames, the same 2×2 made sense for the door frames. I measured the openings and cut the tubing on the metal chop saw.

I took the cut tubing into container three and used the floor as an assembly area. I squared the corners of the legs and the header and clamped a cross brace to keep everything square while I welded. Like this adjustment in progress:

After I finished welding the corners, I tack welded a piece of rebar at the bottom of the legs to keep the door opening even top to bottom during installation.

After welding, I placed the frame in the opening:

I plumbed and leveled the frame then tack welded it into place. I ground the tack welds smooth like this:

Next, there were the gaps to fill between the container wall and the door frame. At the Discovery Center (closest thing to DepotLowes that we have here) in Panama City I found some black urethane windshield adhesive. This is the thickest, stickiest, nastiest, gooey-est substance on the face of the earth. The tubes I got have a 2010 date printed on them. Date made? Expiration date? Who knows. But at $4.95 a tube I considered it a bargain. I’m glad that the manufacturer put a space between the PU and the STAR, other wise it could be read, PUS TAR. Although distasteful, it is not a bad description of this goo.

This goo tools nicely with your finger, but getting it out of the caulking tube is an extreme effort. So I bought a pneumatic caulking gun and connected it to my compressor:

The gun works like a charm, spewing out the adhesive at a good speed. It took about 15 seconds to spread the adhesive on one leg of the frame, verses minutes and a sore hand to do it manually. But I wonder if the system that Campbell Hausfeld’s crack design team created was ever field tested by real users. The trigger is tiny and placed way high on the handle. Perfect, say, for a four-year-old’s tiny fingers. Form follows function, please.

After gunning the adhesive, I ran a wet (spit) finger down the length of the frame, smoothing the goo in one swipe. I think it turned out well. In the next photo, container siding is on the left, the adhesive is the black stripe, and the shiny metal is the door frame:

I’m happy with the project. Here are the three frames completed and prime painted:

While I’ve been busy with the frames, Armando and Sammy have been working barefooted in hard pan clay for nearly a week. Here’s a teaser photo, more on this dasterdly project in a future post:

That’s all for now. More soon. Thanks for stopping by.

My New Oxy-Acetylene Tank Cart

Thanks to everyone who guessed about my latest contraption in my last post. You all guessed correctly. You are a smart bunch. Even you, Charles.

No, actually, as Juan and Rick guessed, it is to hold the oxygen and acetylene tanks that I just got. Charles–Fugetaboutit.

My next task on the house is to make frames for windows, cut holes for windows, and fix the frames in the holes. So far, I’ve been cutting the container walls with a steroidal 9-inch angle grinder with a metal cutting disk. But let’s face it, this is really arduous and dangerous. Arduous because it takes a lot of muscle power, and dangerous because of the propensity for the machine to kick back and sever body parts. I’ve written before about my plasma torch that died an electronic death, not to be revived here in the harsh Panamanian climate of rust, humidity, electrical brown outs and power spikes, and geckos that have the propensity of dying on circuit boards, “melting,” and shorting out the whole mess.

So that leaves two choices:

Choice 1: Hammer and chisel. I remember when I was first investigating Panama as a place for us to live, I stayed at a hotel in Boquete. Early one morning, 6:15 to be exact, I heard a hammer pounding a chisel on metal. It didn’t stop. Finally I got up and got dressed and went to check it out. Two men were cutting strips off of 20-foot lengths of sheet metal roofing. No angle grinder, no plasma torch, no shears, and, bringing me to choice number two, no oxy-acetylene cutting torch.

Choice 2: Oxy-acetylene cutting torch. A torch is really low-tech. No electrical parts, no computer, just a hot flame that slices through metal. The cost had been stopping me, but it was finally time to bite the bullet and buy a rig.

I got a medium duty Victor brand set, complete with welding/cutting torch, hose, and gauges for the oxygen and acetylene. $245 at Pemco in Panama City. Victor is an excellent brand and I like the way the torch balances in my hand. Tools like this are exciting.

Next, I needed to rent the oxygen and acetylene tanks. $300 deposit for the two tanks, plus $75 for the gas in the tanks. I could have bought the tanks, but I would have had to return to the city each time they needed refilling. With the rentals, I can just swap them locally at the hardware store.

But they don’t just deliver out here in the hinterlands. The tanks need to be transported upright and I had no way to accomplish this with the Honda Ridgeline. So I welded up a goalpost rack for the truck. I used the existing tie-down fixtures in the bed of the pickup to affix my rack.

Here are the tanks strapped to the goalpost rack. Jabo is a gas, too.

And here it is in all its painted glory, along with the long-load rack that I made some time ago but just now got around to painting. The traffic police will be happy with the official reflective sticker, $1.

I used the goalpost rack again today to transport two, heavy eight-foot lengths of 4″x6″x1/4″ angle iron that I picked up for my next shop project, a sheet metal bending brake. But I digress.

The point of this post is the cart that I just made to hold the oxygen and acetylene tanks in my shop, and to make it easier to move them around the job. Here are some photos of the cart ready for paint:

I pretty much started the project by holding a length of 1.5″ square tubing in my hands and holding it up to the tanks. The rest just followed element by element. I love the lines, kind of retro, like something that would have been in my grandfather’s shop. I think it has a little Steampunk look about it. I considered clear coating it, but safety yellow won out.


And here it is with the tanks loaded and strapped in with the safety chains across the tanks and an additional anti-theft chain.

So that’s that, I am now ready to cut the window openings in the container walls. I’ve just picked up the windows I had fabricated, so my next post will about windows.

Thanks for all your comments on the Name That Contraption post. That’s all for now.